Santa Barbara News-Press

Canine competitors gear up for tournament


Fuse flyaing Steve, Loren, Fuse, Buddy, and Pismo

At left, Fuse, a one-year old border collie/Jack Russell terrier mix, takes flight over the hurdles of a Flyball course.  Above, Steve and Loren Shepard pose with their canine companions Fuse, Buddy and Pismo. All three dogs have been trained for flyball competitions.

MIKE ELIASON / NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS


Santa Barbara Supersonic Flyball Racing Team set for August event


By MIRANDA GREEN, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
Monday, July 27, 2009

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a train and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. No, it's not Superman—it's the Santa Barbara Supersonic Flyball Racing Team.

Since its launch in February 2007, the team has been a venue for man and his best friend to partake in an energetic and fast-paced sport. Flyball is a relay race with hurdles in which four dogs compete on a team against the clock. Each dog must leave its handler and complete a series of four hurdles. Then, the dog triggers a spring-loaded box that launches a tennis ball which it then must catch. After catching the ball, the dog has to go back through the hurdles and cross the finish line before its canine teammate can begin.

The public will be able to see some of the dogs in action during a flyball tournament on Aug. 15 and 16 at Elings Park, in Santa Barbara.

The team began with a group of locals wanting to form a club that strictly offered flyball as opposed to other agility sports. According to Steve Shepard, vice captain, media director for the Supersonic Flyball Racing Team and one of the team's founders, the sport is unique because it's not asking dogs to do things they wouldn't normally do.

"It challenges them both physically and mentally, "explained Mr. Shepard of the canines. " One of the key things is that you are playing with your dog as a dog; you are challenging their prey drive."

As part of the team, most dogs compete in regional competitions. In order to get ready for the events, dogs and trainers practice once a week at Girsh Park in Goleta. At the club, all dogs are welcome. Owners of mixed breeds,


purebreds, dogs big and small are invited to apply for the team. Though Mr. Shepard admits the working and herding breeds tend to excel at the sport, a speedy tiny dog is just as competitive. This is because the height of each hurdle is set by the smallest dog, which is why, according to Mr. Shepard, "finding a good, fast [small] dog is gold."

Team members are working especially hard this summer because they will be hosting teams from out of state. Teams from all over California and Arizona will compete; locals hope to field two teams of their own in the competition.

In the future, the flyball team members also envision offering formal public classes. At present, the team is a members-only affair and joining is by invitation. However, members of the team would like to extend the sport to locals after generating some additional interest.

In the past, flyball has been open to the public and there's been a nominal charge, said Mr. Shepard. Generally, the team would offer six-week beginning and intermediate classes depending on the degree of interest.
The team is the only recreational dog club of its kind located in Santa Barbara and is a great venue for pooches to use up some pent up energy. Mr. Shepard explained the breeds that excel are usually those bred to work, like border collies, which don't get enough exercise in a household.

"Probably, most people that own border collies aren't herding sheep," he said. "But the dogs are bred to do pretty strenuous work and if they don't have a job, they can be pretty problematic," he added, talking about the working breeds, "It's a really great (sport) for high-energy and smart dogs because there's a lot involved in flyball."

Fuse at the Box

Above, flyball competitor Fuse hits the release to get the tennis ball. At right, Fuse dashes towards the finish line as his handler, Loren Shepard, looks on. The Shepards and their pooches are part of the Santa Barbara Supersonic Flyball Racing Team, which competes in the region.

MIKE ELIASON / NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS 

Fuse over a jump